“A Chinese Child Should Have a Chinese Mother” – Raising Mixed Children in China

“Are you Chinese?”
“Are you Chinese?” On a sunny winter day in December, an ayi wearing a beige quilted jacket, a receptionist in the new compound we’d live in temporarily, throws this question at my 2.5 year old toddler son. To the receptionist, this question is probably on par with asking “Have you eaten yet?” And to my toddler son, the answer is as simple as the question: “I am.” The female receptionists all laugh about his answer. My son grasps my hand tightly, and we leave for the elevator.

These days, I take care of my baby and toddler son during the day. Some days are chaotic, and I’m just glad we’ve made it to the evening. On other days, everything works perfectly during the day: my sons both get their needs met on time―food, naps, clean diapers, and cuddle time with mommy are all completed. Whenever we leave to go bob sliding or buy fruits and vegetables in one of the shops down the street, I bundle up my toddler son, dress my baby, put him in the sling, and add a blanket for another layer of warmth.

“Where did you learn to speak Chinese so well?”
Once outside, strangers wearing layer upon layer of dark winter clothes will stop in their tracks when they see us, turning their heads when we walk by. A mom taking two kids out on her own is basically unheard of here, even more so taking them out in the midst of winter, no matter how warm winter might be this year. Winter is not measured in degrees, it is counted in days of the Chinese Lunar Calendar, a calendar pre-dating the thermometer by hundreds of years and thus having proven its credibility by age. One or the other sturdy Chinese grandmas will stop in her tracks and reach under the blanket to touch my bundled-up baby, crying out loud with surprise over the fact that his feet are, indeed, warm. While the grandmas are wondering if my baby is warm, the aunties and uncles are much more interested in my toddler son’s language acquisition.

“Can you speak Chinese?”
“Did you understand what your mother just said to you [in that foreign language]?”
“Where did you learn to speak Chinese so well?”

These are all questions frequently thrown at him. Everyone is amused at his local Northeastern Chinese dialect when he answers, a dialect he is more apt at speaking than his Northeastern Chinese dad. Some will excitedly exclaim: “He speaks our tongue!”

Not all questions are easy for my son to answer. When a shop owner, penned in between the cashier desk and piles of pink bags of washing detergent, asks my toddler son if he has a Chinese name, he says he doesn’t. The shop owner changes the question: “What’s your name?” My son replies with his Chinese name. Having grown up as part of the majority culture, it is easy for me and for the shop owner to make mental captions of “Chinese” and “foreign.” To my son, his Chinese name is simply his name, just as much as his German name is his name. Chinese and Austrian are not separate, but instead inseparable entities for him.

“A Chinese child should have a Chinese mother”
“Little brother”, one day a Chinese girl two years older than my son says, “a Chinese child should have a Chinese mother.” I’m not sure if I should applaud her for seeing him as her equal– Chinese, or if I should tell her that he carries an Austrian passport, just like his mom. I decide to simply let it go. The girl seems too young to understand the connotations of what she just said, and my son didn’t even listen. He looks at a red kite flowing on the clear blue sky. He couldn’t care less about these questions. In the future, they will be his to answer, or – if he doesn’t like the questions asked – his to ignore. I hope that no matter which questions my sons are asked and which answers they choose, they’ll always know that they are loved and perfect just the way they are. I also hope that they will be able to choose an identity they are comfortable with, but unlike the kite floating in the sky, that they won’t be held down by strings attached.

This article originally appeared on our sister site beijingkids.

Photos courtesy of Ruth Silbermayr-Song


Not sure what exactly is the point of this ?

I also have a 2.5 year old mixed race kid here in china and he gets asked these same questions everyday. sooo...again what is the point? where is the story here ? You went outside and some people talked to you? Your kid likes kites better than answering the same questions all day?

Seems like you are writing just to hear yourself write.



skateboard wrote:

Seems like you are writing just to hear yourself write.

That's kind of what we're all doing...

taibende wrote:
skateboard wrote:

Seems like you are writing just to hear yourself write.

That's kind of what we're all doing...

Yes, indeed... This is just a sharing of personal musings, a legitimate genre and not unprecedented on the hard-hitting news site that is the Beijinger.

And come on... writing to hear yourself write--Beijingers, this IS what people do when they're not yet jaded, hard and cynical from life here.

I personally would like to thank you for sharing a gentler perspective on raising mixed race kids here.

Doubt wisely; in strange way / To stand inquiring right is not to stray; / To sleep, or run wrong, is. (Donne, Satire III)

Yes indeed , indeed .haha

People posting here about the articles are indeed writing for the sake of killing time..If I read an article written to entertain, I would like it to have a point. Even a small % of a point would be enough.

Only a jaded, hard and cynical person would call someone jaded hard and cynical...after reading 5 sentences they wrote:)


I have been working and living in China for over 15 years and my wife, who is Chinese, and I have a wonderful daughter.

One day, I was asked by a woman desk clerk if my wife was Chinese. I said yes.

"Oh, so your daughter is half and half."

I replied, "No, she is double."

So many people wish to label and compartmentalize by their own narrow vision rather than judge by others' words and actions. The story above by Ruth Silbermayr-Song is something my family deals with every day here.

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